Seattle to Gatlinburg and An Alphabet of Knowledge

Baggage carouselAt the airport in Seattle, Courtney and her daughter Caitlin are in the check-in line in front of me. I ask Courtney if she has Irish heritage and she looks confused.

“No.” She shifts the toddler to her other hip. “Why?”

“I just thought that because of Caitlin’s name.”

“Caitlin is an Irish name?”

“Yes. It means Catherine in Irish.”

“I had no idea. I was going to call her Grace.” Courtney looks at me. “What does Grace mean?”

“Um, grace?” I suggest.

Courtney thinks about it. “Yeah, maybe.”

My name means “radiant”, which would have put a lot of pressure to glow on a girl during my formative years if I’d bothered to look up its meaning before last week. I’m pretty sure my mum put a decent bit of thought into such matters, even though she had quite a few of us, but I never knew I was supposed to shine. My namesakes straggle back through myth and pre-history and include a legendary woman warrior, a wild princess prone to viciously battling her wee sister, a goddess who stole an alphabet of knowledge from the gods and an evil stepmother who turned her stepchildren into swans for 900 years. It’s a lot to live up to. Shining might be easier.

I’m on my way to Gatlinburg, Tennessee’s Scottish Festival to take my place in the Scottish parade that first sent me on this mission, way back in Oregon. It’s the final symbolic step in this journey through Scottish-America. Perhaps my quest to become 100% Scottish is not quite on a par with epic Celtic sibling rivalry, thieving goddess antics or the evil shenanigans brewed up by jealous avian-stepmothers, but it feels hugely satisfying to have finally got to this stage of my expedition. To feel that all that bagpiping, Gaelic acquisition and whisky consumption have been leading to something. To know that all those hours on highways, on overly air-conditioned buses and crammed in middle seats mean something more than air miles and a lifetime’s aversion to toilets that travel faster than 20 miles per hour. Now I just have to get to Gatlinburg, have a Highland cow encounter, then I’ll be ready for the parade the day after tomorrow. Perhaps I will channel some of my namesakes’ cunning, sleight of hand or impressively effective cursing vocabulary for this saga’s final chapter. I’m sure that even a couple of vowels from an ancient alphabet of knowledge could come in handy in backwoods Tennessee.

Part Deux.. est ici.

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